How are Conservation Easements preserved?
Donating a conservation easement to the Maryland Environmental Trust (MET) is a major investment by a property owner in the continued health, beauty, and enjoyment of Maryland's open spaces and the Chesapeake Bay. Protecting conserved property does not stop with the signing of the conservation easement. With acceptance of an easement donation, MET takes on obligations to ensure that conserved properties remain protected forever.
The goal of the MET Stewardship Program is to build a successful long term relationship with owners of conserved land. MET provides stewardship services to owners of conserved properties to ensure the long-term protection of their land, thereby enhancing the natural and scenic aspects of these unique properties. We work with owners of conserved properties so they understand their conservation easement, feel part of the land conservation community, and to encourage them to act as ambassadors of conservation.
Our Stewardship Program uses the following elements which we employ to ensure that the terms of the conservation easement are upheld in future land management decisions.
- Discussions with landowners to explain the legally binding nature of the easement and how it limits uses of their land.
- Preparation of Baseline Documentation that describes in detail the protected conservation features and existing buildings or other development on the property.
- Monitor changes in the property over time and maintain records on property conditions to evaluate compliance with the terms of the easement.
- Develop a partnership with the landowner to ensure that the purposes of the conservation easement are understood and achieved.
- Develop community relations to explain the purposes of conservation easements, provide information, and build community involvement through our network of land trusts.
- Administer data and imagery on easements to ensure that records are kept accurately and securely in accordance with Land Trust Alliance Land Trust Standards and Practices.
- Respond to requests from landowners for information on what is allowed by their easement, and to formal requests to undertake activities that the conservation easement requires be reviewed and approved by MET.
- Respond to reports of violations or concerns in a timely and confidential manner to determine whether violations have occurred and to take action to resolve issues and correct violations.
- Prepare for easement defense and enforcement so that major violations or legal challenges can be avoided or resolved before litigation, or if necessary, through court proceedings.
Conservation Easement Stewardship
The donation of a conservation easement to the Maryland Environmental Trust is a major investment in the continued health, beauty, and enjoyment of Maryland's open spaces and the Chesapeake Bay. Protecting one's property does not stop with the signing of the conservation easement.
The Maryland Environmental Trust (MET) provides stewardship services to easement holders that will ensure the long-term protection of their land, thereby enhancing the special natural and scenic aspects of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
You may have some questions about MET's stewardship role:
What is stewardship and why is it necessary?
Through stewardship, the Maryland Environmental Trust continues to protect properties long after the easements are signed. By monitoring the condition of a property, we can ensure that its easement is upheld by second-generation landowners and beyond. This also enables us to provide technical assistance to landowners for the restoration and protection of stream- and river-side forests, wildlife habitat, and water quality. Stewardship helps us establish relationships with new landowners when property changes hands, and helps us stay in touch with all easement donors over the long haul.
Monitoring means periodic visits, with advance notice, by MET staff or MET trained volunteers to assess the condition of the property and check for compliance with the terms and conditions of the deed of conservation easement. All of this is documented, including photographs. In the event of a potential or actual violation of the terms, a follow-up contact with the landowner may be needed, and in occasional cases some kind of enforcement action.
Stewardship involves a larger set of issues, including landowner requests for MET to approve various proposed structures or activities on the property. For some types of requests, the easement document specifies the request and approval process. Depending on the nature of the request and the wording of the document, an amendment may be called for in some cases, within the established limits of MET's amendment policy.
How is stewardship conducted?
Stewardship begins with the documentation of the key features of the property - such as unique natural features, land uses, buildings, and roads - which serves as the starting point for future stewardship activities. Using information on these conservation features as a reference, MET staff and volunteers periodically visit each protected property and document changes, such as new structures or changes in land use. During these visits, we also discuss with the landowner any questions they may have or upcoming plans for the property, whether they are planning to sell it, replace existing buildings or construct new ones, conduct a timber harvest, or remove hazardous trees. This provides an opportunity to review what activities are allowed or prohibited by the easement.
What happens if a violation of the easement is found during a stewardship visit?
Maryland Environmental Trust staff will contact the landowner immediately and identify a way to resolve the issue. Typically, violations are not willful and landowners are eager to repair any damage to the conservation values of their property. As a last resort, the Maryland Environmental Trust will pursue legal action to stop further damage and correct the problem.
But I donated the easement, so I won't violate it. Why would you still need to monitor?
Most violations occur after the property has been transferred to new owners who are not familiar with the terms of the easement or lack your conservation ethic. By consistently conducting stewardship visits over time, we are better able to identify major changes and violations when they occur. It is important to document the condition of the property at regular intervals no matter if the property is in the care of the original or subsequent owners.
How much does stewardship cost?
Monitoring activities can cost between $100 to $500 per year per easement, depending on easement complexity, the property's location and size, and whether volunteers or staff visit.
If violations are found, or if landowners seek to exercise rights reserved by the easement, then significant additional staff time may be required.
Through the years, each easement may require as much as $10,000 to $15,000 for stewardship, and significantly more if legal action is required.
MET is fortunate to be able to call on the Office of the Assistant Attorney General at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources for legal advice, document review, and in extreme circumstances, litigation to enforce easements and ensure the protection of conservation values of the easement property.
Landowners may donate to the Maryland Environmental Trust's Stewardship Fund.
Why do we need Financial Support?
MET is responsible for ensuring that the terms of conservation easements are upheld by current and future landowners. Our preserved properties are unique and special. MET works with landowners to make sure that they remain this way.
How we do that involves costs that are not always covered by our State funding and we need financial support to maintain and plan for our obligations.
Our Staff members visit the property to make observations, take photographs and meet with the landowner to discuss their wishes. We make initial proposals of the terms of the conservation easement based on their goals and MET's mission. Some properties have more requirements, such as a boundary survey, aerial photography for larger properties, and topographical mapping.
MET is permanently responsible for monitoring properties to ensure that the terms Monitoring activities can cost between $100 to $500 per year per easement, depending on easement complexity, the property's location and size, and whether volunteers or staff visit. Significantly more is needed if legal action is required to uphold the terms of the conservation easement.
If violations are found, or if landowners seek to exercise rights reserved by the easement, then significant additional staff time may be required. Through the years, each easement may require as much as $10,000 to $15,000 for stewardship, and significantly more if legal action is required to protect the conservation attributes and carry out the donor's intent.
MET is fortunate to be able to call on the Office of the Assistant Attorney General at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources for legal advice, document review, and in extreme circumstances, litigation to enforce easements and ensure the protection of conservation attributes of the easement property. Although staff costs are covered, MET may have expenses such as boundary surveys, additional monitoring visits to document evidence or expert witnesses in any litigation action.
What other services can Maryland Environmental Trust staff provide during stewardship visits?
MET staff can assist in a wide variety of ways. Many landowners with property that is protected by a conservation easement are eager to enhance its natural resources. Staff can provide information on technical assistance programs that can help landowners improve their property, such as through streamside tree plantings, forest stand improvement, wildlife habitat enhancement, etc. Maryland Environmental Trust staff are always available whether onsite or by telephone to answer questions about easement interpretation and the effect of specific actions on the conservation values of landowner's property.
Special thanks to the Potomac Conservancy for use of their material in creating this FAQ.
Request a MET Sign to Display on Your Easement Property
If you would like an MET sign to display on your easement property. Please call Jon Chapman, Stewardship Program Manager, at 410-514-7904 or email Jon at Jon.Chapman@maryland.gov.
The cost of sign is $10 which includes shipping.
We appreciate display of MET's Protected Forever sign. It is evidence of your commitment to land conservation and we feel it encourages other people to do the same.